What is an Amalgam Separator and Why Do I Have to Have One?

Written by Heather Siler

An Amalgam Separator is a device which traps amalgam fragments from dental office wastewater thus reducing the amount of amalgam and the mercury it contains from entering the sewage system. As of July 14, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a final ruling on the mandatory use of Amalgam Separators in dental practices because the field of dentistry is the leading source of mercury discharge into wastewater. The date of compliance for all dental practices is July 14, 2020. The use of an Amalgam Separator is thought to suppress at least 99% of potentially harmful mercury entering the public sewage system. Although most dentists don’t place it anymore, it’s still encountered daily in the treatment of teeth containing amalgam.

Amalgam separators use filtration, sedimentation, centrifugation, or a combination of these methods to remove the amalgam waste. The average cost of an Amalgam Separator is $800-900 with the installation running around $250-300. Operational cost per year is around $500.

You need to do your homework regarding Amalgam Separators. There are chairside models and central systems installed at the vacuum pump. The chairside models are easy to install and can be effortlessly connected by a team member. A Central System must usually be installed by a dental technician or a plumber. Some models use sedimentation tanks, and others operate with filters. The units that run on sedimentation tanks tend to operate with less expense. The ones that operate on filters can be very costly due to the expense and disposal of the filters. 

Maintenance is minimal and typically involves only replacing the container once it's full which occurs every six to twelve months depending on the size of the practice. The container must be sent to a certified amalgam waste company. If you choose a unit that has filters, the size of the practice will determine how often the filter will need to be changed. The model chosen must also be ISO-Certified (International Organization for Standardization) for effectiveness. However, most models exceed this standard.

There are some exceptions to the new EPA requirement. Practices such as Oral Surgery, Periodontic, Orthodontic, and Prosthetic don’t usually deal with amalgam and are exempt from mandatory use an Amalgam Separator.